What it's about:
After a mission goes horribly wrong, the Avengers are confronted with a new resolution signed by most of the world's countries that would put them at the control of the United Nations. With Captain America and Iron Man already on opposite sides as to whether to go along with the will of the UN or not, tensions reach a boiling point with the return of the Winter Soldier: a dangerous killer and Cap's oldest friend.
What we thought:
It's hard not to compare Captain America: Civil War with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, both because of the fact that the two feature similar themes and that they both revolve around a showdown between their respective universe's biggest heroes, battling it out for the soul of (super)heroism. They're also both nearly two-and-a-half hours long and are the linchpins on which a great many other sequels and spin-offs revolve.
Here's the thing, though, even mentioning the two films in the same sentence seems like a hideous insult to Marvel's latest – and best – film because, while Batman V Superman was a flat-out terrible movie that fundamentally betrayed everything great about the iconic heroes at its center, Civil War is a masterclass in blockbuster filmmaking that uses the “shared universe” of Marvel Studio's dozen-odd films and at least as many characters to create a truly compelling character-driven narrative that is as organic as it is nuanced as it is believable.
Based very, very loosely off Mark Millar and Steve McNiven's comic book of the same name (with more from Ed Brubaker's Captain America run thrown in for good measure), Civil War eschews much of the Marvel formula – when not brilliantly undermining it outright – by turning its attention to weightier and more intimate matters as our heroes come to blows over their roles as, well, superheroes. Brilliantly, the fact that superheroes don't exist in the real world doesn't actually change both the intellectual and emotional heft of the film's central conflict.
I mentioned in my review of the first Avengers film that all of that film's action and fantastical plot machinations was basically just a front for writer/ director Joss Whedon to explore the character dynamics between a group of widely disparate individuals. Civil War takes a similar approach but on a much larger scale. By this point we know these characters inside and out and the Russo brothers, working off a sharp, witty script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, use this to their advantage to tell an allegorical tale about the use of power to make the world a batter place (a phrase that echoes throughout the film), while further exploring these characters and the dynamics between them.
Unlike the Distinguished Competition, though, all of this is done in the most entertaining way possible, with some beautifully choreographed (if a wee bit too Paul Greengrass-y for my tastes) action scenes, wonderful character beats, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo and – though this is easily the most serious Marvel movie to date – sprinklings of laugh-out-loud humour. It also largely refrains from having the various character interactions devolve into boring speechifying by keeping the focus squarely on the characters and their relationships, both old (Steve and Tony, Clint and Natasha) and new (Wanda Maximoff and the Vision) - to the point that it's not even surprising that Steve Rogers and Tony Stark fall on the sides that they do, even though on paper it seems like their positions should be reversed.
Speaking of characters, another minor miracle that the film manages to seemingly so easily pull off is the way it balances its dozens of major characters. By keeping the focus squarely on Steve and Tony (there's a reason why the words “Captain America” appear before the colon in the film's title, after all), the Russo's are free to weave the existing Avengers (minus Thor and Hulk), along with “new” heroes like Black Panther, Ant Man and a certain web-slinger, into a story where everyone gets a chance to shine, no matter how large or small their screen-time. It also keeps the film's antagonists, primarily General Ross (William Hurt) - making his first appearance in the MCU since the Incredible Hulk - and Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) as agents of chaos and reflections of the heroes themselves, rather than your typical mustache-twirling baddies, which, once again, ensures that most of the attention remains on the characters that really matter.
Captain America: Civil War is, on the one hand, simply yet another tremendously successful instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at this point do I even need to mention how wonderful this cast is or how perfect they are in these roles?) but it's also a major step forward in terms of sophistication, ambition and mold-breaking that stands, quite possibly, as the greatest superhero film to date. And, with the Russos at the helm of the upcoming Avengers movies, despite my lifelong status as a DC Comics fan, it's impossible not sign off in the proud tradition of Marvel Comics' letter hacks: Make Mine Marvel!